PHILADELPHIA - The buzz about the Phillies pitching staff this past weekend didn't center around Cole Hamels' first opening-day start.
Roy Halladay's spring training struggles drew some attention.
The topic the media and fans wanted to talk about the most?
The pitcher, who will be on the mound as the Phillies open the 2013 season at 7:10 p.m. today in Atlanta against the Braves, sported the mustache as he helped the Phillie Phanatic mascot shoot hot dogs into the Citizens Bank Park stands during an exhibition series Friday and Saturday. The normally clean-shaven Hamels wore a beard for much of spring training.
Why did Hamels grow the mustache? He isn't saying.
"Trade secret," Hamels said.
No matter how he looks, Hamels is the clear choice to be the Phillies' opening-day starter.
"We've got five starters that go out there and compete on a daily basis," he said. "I'm fortunate enough to go first off the bat."
Hamels finished 17-6 with a 3.09 ERA and was one of the few positives in an otherwise disappointing 2012 for the Phillies. He signed a six-year, $144 million contract extension with Philadelphia last July, a deal that could keep him with the team through the 2019 season.
The Phillies still feature some of the game's top starting pitchers in Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. But it appears as if Hamels has inherited the No. 1 spot from Halladay.
"Cole has come into his own," Lee said. "He's been here the longest. He's come up with this organization and done everything that's been asked of him. It's his turn to step up and be the guy. I think he's up for the challenge and he has the skill set to do so."
It seems odd that Hamels has never made an opening-day start, considering he has become one of the players most identified with the Phillies.
Philadelphia chose him in the first round of the 2002 draft. He won the Most Valuable Player Award in the 2008 World Series.
But Hamels didn't start opening day in 2009 because of an elbow injury, and Halladay started opening day from 2010-12.
Opening day is special, but Hamels knows each appearance for a starting pitcher can't be overlooked. Tonight's game probably will be one of 33 or so that Hamels pitches this season, and that's if he stays healthy.
"Pitching once every five days is not a lot," Hamels said. "When you go out there, you have to make it count.
"You have to be the best at your game for that given moment because you don't really get too many opportunities."
As for the mustache, Lee said he hopes Hamels keeps it.
"That's a big-league mustache," Lee said. "It's legit."
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